Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Awesome Ulster heading in the right direction with Cardiff win

Ulster 39-21 Cardiff Blues

Rabo Pro12 Ulster v Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill.
Jared Payne slides in for Ulster's second try
Rabo Pro12 Ulster v Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill. Jared Payne slides in for Ulster's second try

It was at times a thing of beauty, with Ulster delivering running lines and support plays that seemed irresistible.

And indeed, five tries and maximum points from their return to PRO12 League action could hardly have worked out much better.

The pace Mark Anscombe's men put on the ball was and their ability to off-load with confidence that a support player would be on hand to take it was really marvellous and hardly better exemplified than Luke Marshall's second-half score when the excellent Stuart Olding – who looked pretty comfortable at full back – gave Marshall a one-handed pass after stepping the unfortunate Bradley Davies.

Poor Mr Davies was having a night of it as when Ulster ran in their first dazzling try – scored by his opposite number Dan Tuohy – the Wales second row found himself being toasted on the outside by the Jared Payne who just seems to be get better with every game.

And what of Payne's score? That was a moment of vision from Ruan Pienaar when the Blues bizarrely turned their backs for a moment and expecting the penalty to be kicked.

They really should have known better and in the blink of an eye Payne was over.

You always felt that Andrew Trimble might want to send out a message after being omitted from Joe Schmidt's immediate plans and he did so while by the time Tuohy scored his second the Blues had long since fallen away.

Yet there were worries and niggling issues.

The sight of Johann Muller and Rory Best leaving the action early will have concerned Mark Anscombe and in Best's case Schmidt will also be uneasy.

But the placekicking returns were also nowhere near where they should have been and Paddy Jackson's form in this regard – though his distribution and defence were top notch again – ensured that only four from seven efforts bisected the posts.

Pienaar also wasn't immune to a couple of misses and though Anscombe won't be too happy about this he can take reassurance that his side were at times sublime in their use of the ball while their set-piece simply annihilated the Blues at scrum time.

Having said that, Anscombe and his coaching team will have to be picky and won't be thrilled at the concession of two tries – the second when the Blues had been reduced to 14 men.

Yes, just when Ulster looked to have this one wrapped up, they dipped significantly in performance and invited Cardiff – who last week shocked everyone, probably even themselves by beating Toulon in Europe – right back into getting within touching distance on several occasions.

Ulster made no secret of what they wanted to do pretty much from the off.

The tempo they brought to their first attack in the early moments was tremendous with quick hands and flat alignment giving them an obvious edge.

With such dominance of possession and territory it was hardly surprising when Tuohy was put over by Robbie Diack after Payne gave Bradley Davies such a hard time.

It showcased all Payne's great skill at running with the ball and finding gaps.

But the Kiwi has much more to his game than that and his early hit on Leigh Halfpenny was quite simply earth shuddering.

You assumed that with Muller and Best off that Ulster would be weakened at the scrum.

But instead, they began to really turn the screw up front with their superb set-piece dominance and another score directly came from this when Pienaar's tap made the second try.

But just when you wanted Ulster to help close the deal, they lost their edge and concentration and had to work that bit harder for this win.

Maybe it was a blessing as we were treated to a masterclass in the art of finishing.

And just when you thought, well, it's the end of October and this time of year isn't exactly the most thrilling if you're trying to market the PRO12, what with it being sandwiched between the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup and the beginning of the autumn international period, the Ravenhill crowd were given high entertainment value with this five-try result.

So a night when the home crowd couldn't really have been more pleased and an occasion when most of Ulster's Ireland hopefuls will have probably signed off for pretty much all of the next month in just the right way.

If this is the future direction Ulster are going in then we like it, we like it very much indeed.

Bring on the tries please and let's not quibble about missed kicks.

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